Our Wealth Gap
We talk often about our wealth gap. About inequality. About those getting left behind. Generally, we’re talking about the rich getting richer, and the super-rich leaving even very wealthy people way behind.
I have another take. By every typical measure the United States of America has been the wealthiest nation on Earth for the better part of 100 years. GDP. Standard of living. Wages. Etc. And to the extent by which we’ve slipped over the past few decades, it’s all about per capita GDP. Very rich countries with not so many people have more wealth per person. (Think Qatar, Monaco, and Macau.)
But wealth must mean more than GDP. If you’re rich and you can’t afford anything, something’s missing. When you’re rich and your high schoolers’ educational performance middles at best – measured against other countries’ teens – something’s missing. And when you can’t figure out how to solve for kids going to school and never coming home because, more than 225 years ago, the revered Founding Fathers adopted an incomprehensible 27-word sentence, something’s really fucked up!
So, about that wealth gap. Inequality among Americans presents many challenges. But our real wealth gap involves the poverty of ideas and solutions. The imagination gap. We can’t solve a problem to save our lives! Literally … but let me rant briefly before I get back to the my allusion to the deaths we tolerate in the name of freedom and the Second Amendment.
I love hearing my wealthy friends talk about airports and public transportation in foreign countries. “Why don’t we have this or that,” they ask. Um, because they cost money and we’ve got a Congress, which you bought and paid for, which has convinced itself that government can only fail? Or, we like shabby chic … and you missed the memo? Tax cuts trump infrastructure expenditures in our great / Make it Great Again nation. And, with that approach roads suck, bridges will collapse, and airports are almost as bad as the flights which cause us to be at those facilities. (By the way, that Trump infrastructure plan? Sad. Just sad. Oh, and pathetic too!)
Then there’s education. Teacher salaries and decent, safe buildings cost money. Certainly, livable wages and quality facilities don’t solve the problems alone, but taking them away guarantees weakened performance. Yet, in my state teacher pay ranks last in the nation. And our income ranking? 31. (That gap won’t last, by the way, for if we interfere with our children’s educational opportunities by failing to pay our teachers, incomes will fall.)
With more examples abounding – and limited space – we’re back to guns. President Donald Trump said, about the Florida shooting: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior.” Thanks for going deep, Mr. President! Imagine a troubled child, expelled from his high school, lacking access to an arsenal. Options? Breaking windows. Graffiti. Slashing tires. And with arsenals? Dead kids, and teachers and administrators, and others. (And from too many: thoughts and prayers, and now is not the time for gun control or other political stuff.)
What’s the central theme here? Themes makes more sense. With apologies for using aphorisms to explain what’s wrong, think: Perfect is the Enemy of Good; coupled with All In Good Time; with a heaping helping of Greed is Good.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote Our Collective Impotence Feeds the Power of Guns. Worth your time! Mr. Marshall tells us in plain language why every part of the gun solution mix matters, and why the NRA and its fellow travelers succeed so well by noting how this or that part of the mix won’t solve the problem completely. We’re single shot people in a very complex world. If A or B won’t fix what ails us, fully and completely, we should do nothing, or so they tell us, obliquely.
Coupled with our desire for simple, perfect solutions, we expect to fix decades worth of problems in one fell swoop, in the next week or so. When I was almost 11 a bad guy killed Robert Kennedy. There was lots of gun control talk, and even some legislation. That said, I also recall plenty of “what can we do, there are so many guns already” talk. Here are some stats which evidence the guns explosion. The 1968 laws mattered, but the notion that we can’t act because what we might do won’t fix it by Friday allows problems to fester for years and decades.
Finally, there’s greed. “Wealthiest nation ever” and “we can’t afford …” ought to be discordant notes, as in “harsh and jarring because of a lack of harmony.” Somehow, though, our rentier class – and others who worry not at all about the financial stuff that keep 99+% of us up at night – thinks we should have all of the goodies, and that Those People should pay for them.
Without any doubt our inequality gap contributes to our miasma. Add shortsightedness and a lack of interest in complexities, and we should not be even a teeny bit surprised that the wealthiest nation may be on the Big Slide, going down into the “forever” hole.